Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Batgirl #24 review


Last month Stephanie Brown learned that her super-villain dad, the Cluemaster, was behind the riot at Gotham's Blackgate Prison. As we rejoin her, she's not frightened, because her father's not actually a scary guy and she knows that whatever else, he loves her.

Then he does something scary.

Somehow Arthur Brown has got his hands on the alien Black Mercy plant, a piece of fauna powerful enough to latch onto even a Kryptonian psyche. It induces such seductive fantasies in its victim that they surrender, happy never to escape its clutches. Rather than attempt to let it latch onto Batgirl, Cluemaster blows its spores at his daughter, putting her into the sleep state. Batgirl's down, but she's not out, and as she slumps floorwards, she manages to take her father out with a well-aimed glue Batarang.

We rejoin Steph as she wakes up in hospital, her mask left intact to protect her identity from strangers. It turns out that she was strong enough to fight off the Black Mercy influence - presumably lesser due to it not being bonded to her. At Steph's side is her nurse mother, her presence motivating a scene that's been a long time coming.

Later, mentor Barbara Gordon asks Steph what she saw while asleep and while the younger woman deflects the question, we readers see what she went through - an encounter with the Queen of Fables, her female super-friends (the Queen Titans?) at her side; an energetic adventure with Damian, Babs and herself as Red, Green and Blue Lanterns; a time travel trip to meet the Blackhawks alongside her two predecessors as Batgirl; a graduation day spat with the Royal Flush Gang. 

Poignantly, we see an older Steph, raising the child she gave away while still the Spoiler.

Then we see her again as a grown woman, in a Steph-style Nightwing outfit, accompanied by yet another Batgirl, perhaps her young chum Nell all-gwown-up. She's confident and proud, the person she's grown to be throughout the two years of this book. The issue ends with Steph shedding a tear, realising that after all the crap she's been through, she's reached a place of peace. She's not a grim Gotham avenger, she's the city's happiest hero. She's Batgirl.

This is a wonderful issue. I was expecting 20 pages of Steph battling Cluemaster, but what we get instead is a look at the Batgirl adventures that might have been, both in the near and far future. In an interview at Comic Book Resources this week writer Bryan Q Miller talks about the end of Batgirl, and mentions that he had barely any notice of the title's closure (my words). So it's likely such things as the Queen of Fables, Lanterns and Blackhawk storylines were things Miller had kicking around in his head.

And while I'm sorry I'll never see them acted out, Miller's consistent characterisation of Steph, and the gorgeous snapshot splash pages by illustrator Pere Perez provide some idea of what we'll be missing - stories that break the Bat-mould by acknowledging that 'drama' allows for comedic moments ... a little bit of light can only enhance the Gotham shade. Tales starring a woman who fills many roles within the Batman family - little sister to Babs, big sister to Damian, lost love to Tim - while remaining her own person. 

This issue's finale is titled 'Unsinkable' and while Steph never survived the Titanic, like her namesake Molly Brown, she has overcome the odds again and again to emerge as one of DC's most powerful personalities. In that CBR piece, Miller mentions that he has a DC project or two on the way, and while he can't give anything away yet, I wouldn't be at all surprised should one of them feature Stephanie Brown in a new heroic role. Maybe we've seen her new look already, in this very issue. I could stand that, especially if the terrifically talented Perez and colourist Guy Major - heck, the whole creative team - were on board too. Because Miller and co have defined Stephanie Brown, and while she's no longer going to be Batgirl, DC are smart enough to know a player when they see one. Let's see where she turns up over the next few months. 

Before then we have two years' worth of excellent super-hero comics to look back on, an eye-catching reminder of which is Dustin Nguyen's madly cute cover. You'll notice that while everyone else is in full view, one person is silhouetted, the Batman ... and Batgirl is escaping his shadow. 


9 comments:

  1. Without having read the issue, is it possible that everything you mention in paragraphs 4-7 is, in fact, a Black Mercy induced hallucination?

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  2. Ha, the stuff 'after' she wakes up? Indeed it is - I was just saying that on my Facebook page a couple of hours back. But for the sake of a final issue review, I'm taking the happy road!

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  3. I was wondering if her waking up at the hospital and her talk with Babs wasn't also Black Mercy hallucinations, the art is the give-away as the artist would include a black mercy somewhere in the art. I'll have to relook at even post dreamstate just in case.

    The child in her dream was not the daughter she gave away, by the way, it is a projected future son, who, with the black hair, people are speculating could be either Tim's or Damian's. She also is wearing a wedding ring, meaning she dreamt she was married to one or the other.

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  4. Thanks Max, I figured it was the girl, grown homely ...

    There's a great piece at DC Women Kicking Ass with Brian Q Miller revealing all:

    http://dcwomenkickingass.tumblr.com/post/8746856416/bg-24

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  5. Loved this issue and this title sooo much. Definitely going to be missed in the DCnU implosion.

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  6. Though I was disappointed the Cluemaster stuff wasn't really resolved, the Mercy hallucinations and final wink were wonderful. "It's only the end if you want it to be."

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  7. Anj, 'The DCnU Implosion', eh? I was going to suggest 'The DC Plank' as in 'the perfect jumping-off point'.

    Siskoid, I'm feeling fuzzy now!

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  8. I cannot believe 'Batgirl' is over! I love Stephanie Brown's Batgirl so much, I wish I would be reading it for at least five years to come!

    Alas, it will be just a 24 episodes collection... that I will treasure the most. You are correct: Batgirl is Gotham's happiest hero.

    Heck, she might be DC's happiest hero ever. Full stop.

    And one of the most inspiring at that. I love Miller and his team for that.

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